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It is that time of year again when some of us are preparing our students for their annual Holiday Concert during their elementary general music classes. The planning for this concert begins in September and proceeds from there with the selection of music, the planning of how to teach the music in a short amount of time, and all of the logistics that go along with that. As I began planning for this concert a couple of months ago, this blog post came to me. As it progressed in my thought process, I thought that this might be a good week to blog everyday with top ten lists that pertain to elementary general music educators. So begins with this first list about the items that go into planning the annual holiday concert.
- Goal: My goal is to make my students feel successful when they perform for the audience and to make sure that the time allotted for preparation and the musical selections can achieve this goal.
- Readiness: My third graders are ready to perform songs with numerous verses, to perform partner songs with the second graders, to perform rounds, and to accompany themselves on Orff instruments in front of a large audience. My kindergartners are ready to sing simple songs without crying and feeling scared. Determining each grade’s readiness level is important so that you can give them a challenge without overwhelming them.
- Where you will perform: Are you performing in an auditorium, a cafetorium, a gymatorium, or an informance in your classroom? The place where you will perform will play a roll in determining your musical selections. If the place has terrible acoustics, then you might think about grouping two or more grades together to sing a song. You might also have to beg for some adults to run a sound system so you can mic the students or so your accompaniment CDs can be heard. Is the location small and therefore, you will have the grades continuously transitioning? That will eat into your performance time and you will need to account for that. Do you have access to risers or flip forms so that all of your students can be seen and heard? Adjustments will be needed for this. Would you like to add Orff instruments or dances to your concert? Space will determine these aspects of your concert. I have learned that what I think will happen (in my head) is nothing like what I have to adjust to make happen in our auditorium. Therefore, flexibility and thoughtfulness are a must when it comes to where you will perform.
- Live or CD accompaniments? Ideally, I love live accompaniments because it is easier for musicians to adjust to the students than for the students to adjust to the CD recordings. However, live accompaniments might mean hiring an accompanist for the rehearsals and concert and this requires money in the budget to do so. There are creative ways around this by asking another music educator in your district to accompany your concert and you offer to accompany his/her concert. Or, if you know of a parent who would volunteer his/her time to accompany, that might be a possible solution. You could accompany your own concert, however, sometimes with younger children, they need you in front of them to help them remember the words and/or movements to the songs or to be that friendly, smiling face so that they feel secure and successful. CD accompaniments can be beneficial because the students are used to singing along with them during class and if you use some of Teresa Jennings’s arrangements from Music K8 magazine, then you have some high quality, beautifully arranged accompaniments with a variety of instruments. That provides a great “ear candy” to a concert, as opposed to a concert with only a piano for accompaniment.
- Time of day: If your concerts are at night, the younger children might have very limited attention spans, so concert music that can be easily performed at any time of day would be best (thinking simpler songs). If the concert is in the morning, your younger students should have better attention spans and might be able to handle more challenging songs.
- Administrative support: When you choose a program, you will need administrative support if you are singing about holidays. As music educators, we tend to choose literature that enhances our students’ knowledge and sound. We also choose music that has some significance in music history to songs that show off the students’ talents to songs that are entertaining for the audience. It becomes a nice, musical mix of songs. However, an audience who does not comprehend the process we go through to choose music could complain about some of our choices. When that occurs, we need administrative support to be able to assist us when concerns arise from the audience. If a music educator feels that the administration has their hands tied when is comes to the musical choices for the holiday concert, then the music educator’s musical selections become very limited.
- Resource #1:Music K8: I have been subscribing to Music K8 since the late 1990s. I always find very age-appropriate songs for the holiday concert that range from traditional to contemporary with excellent suggestions on how to teach the song and how to correlate it across the curriculum. The series also includes amazing pre-recorded accompaniments with tremendous musicians (I say this because in Volume 12/4, my best friend from college, oboe/english hornist Anna Mattix who now plays in The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, performed on the recording titled “You Are Our Heroes“).
- Resource(s) #2: Curriculum Series. Many of the curriculum series such as the newest Silver Burdett Series (teamed up with Alfred so it includes a variety of Albrecht, Althouse, and Beck) or Gameplan or Musicplay or Music Express Magazine can be utilized has a tremendous r
esource for age-appropriate concert literature, along with Orff accompaniments, riser choreography and/or great accompaniment CDs/audio files.
- Resource(s) #3: Social Networking. By joining the music teachers facebook group, you can ask over 5000 music educators such things as what musical selections they are using for their concerts to how do they handle parental concerns over the musical selections to how they handle those who will be absent for the concert. In addition, pinterest can be your best friend when searching for holiday concert music for elementary grades. Here is my pinterest page that lists the concert music that we have selected so far for the 2013-2014 school year.
- Resource #4: Catalogs: Whether the catalog is in a hard copy or emailed to you through an email list-serve or it is online on a website like jwpepper, there is a lot of thought that goes into those resources so that music educators can find “best sellers” of holiday music used in concerts, peruse the music before purchasing it, and listen to the audio files to preview the selection. Those catalogs are wonderful resources for assisting with selecting the right music for your students.
When I entered my first elementary general music teaching job, I wish that I had a clue about how to select concert music. I am thrilled to see how technology has assisted greatly in this area as music is now more accessible to peruse and listen to, a new music educator can now network with thousands of other music educators to bounce ideas off of or to just seek out advice, one can facebook, tweet, explore pinterest, etc, to find answers to these questions, and with notation software becoming easier to use and now easily accessible in the cloud, music educators can compose their own songs along with the lead sheets and accompaniment parts, quickly, easily, and from any computer.
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com